A study released today recommends eight ways to reduce transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among men who meet male sex partners online.
Owners of popular dating and “hook-up” websites and users of those websites, along with HIV and STD program directors, agreed that a few simple measures could have a major impact on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Among the online measures supported by a majority of those surveyed:
• Including “safe sex” as a profile option and allowing users to search for partners by such characteristics
• Providing directories of STD testing locations
• Sending automatic reminders to get an HIV or STD test at regular intervals chosen by users
• Having chat-rooms and other areas for HIV-positive men looking for other HIV positive men
• Providing e-cards to notify partners of a potential exposure to STDs
• Posting videos that show men discussing safe sex, HIV status, and related issues
• Providing access to sexual health experts
“Finding sex and love online is here to stay,” said Dan Wohlfeiler, one of the study’s authors working with the California HIV/STD Prevention Training Center for this project. “This study shows how we can work with website owners to turn the Internet into a force for their users’ health.”
More than 3000 users, 82 state and local HIV and STD Program directors and 18 owners of dating and “hook-up” websites completed the survey.
Jen Hecht, Education Director at STOP AIDS Project and co-author, said “Since all three groups agree these strategies are important, can be done, and would be used, we need to be getting them online now.”
The study also found a number of strategies with less support. Website owners expressed skepticism about health department staff going online to notify users that they might have been exposed to an STD. In contrast, a majority of HIV and STD prevention directors and users thought this strategy was important. The authors are planning follow-up meetings with owners to further understand their concerns. In California, gay and bisexual men who were diagnosed with syphilis or gonorrhea most frequently reported the Internet as where they met sex partners.
“We have rising rates of STDs among gay and bisexual men and turning that around means everyone needs to take responsibility for their sexual health,” said Bill Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD). “This study shows how public health professionals, as well the users and owners of sex seeking websites, can band together to make a real difference in securing the sexual health of gay men.”
The study, entitled “How Can We Improve HIV and STD Prevention Online for MSM” funded by amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, was co-authored by H. Fisher Raymond and Willi McFarland at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The results have been posted here.